When we got married last year, our guests almost universally said it was the best wedding they’d ever been to, which was exactly what we’d hoped for. The wedding ceremony was in the historic and lovely Hancock Point Chapel, and the reception was held on Schoodic Peninsula, on a bluff overlooking the islands in Frenchman Bay. For me the area holds special significance, both because my roots in the area go back some 250 years and because it’s where I spent the most treasured summers of my childhood.
Clergy were well-represented at our wedding. In addition to the Unitarian Universalist minister who officiated, a dear friend who had just been ordained to the Episcopal diaconate (and who has since been ordained into the priesthood) gave the readings, and David’s cousin Deb, a Lutheran minister from South Dakota, was among our guests. We felt blessed, not just because of their presence, but because of all of our friends and loved ones who joined us to celebrate that day.
Despite all of this — the $20,000 or more we brought to the state economy, our commitment to and love for each other, the ecclesiastical imprimatur — the state still didn’t recognize our marriage, and won’t recognize it at least until the outcome of the people’s veto initiative. We went to Nova Scotia to have a legal ceremony, so that when same-sex marriages are finally recognized by this state we won’t need a “do-over.”
Bishop Richard Malone and Michael Heath would have you believe that allowing the state to recognize our marriage is like dancing at the edge of the abyss. Maybe their hang-up is just over the word “marriage,” though it really seems to me to go deeper than that. The problem is that we are, in fact, married — twice. Once by an ordained minister in front of people who are dear to us and once by a justice of the peace on a beach in Canada. We would simply like the state to grant that fact recognition and to provide to us the same protections and responsibilities it does to other married couples.
After all, the state already recognizes plenty of marriages that the Catholic Church would not condone or recognize. Atheists, divorcees, Catholics with adherents of other faith traditions, infertile couples — all of these are anathema to at least some part of the Roman Catholic church hierarchy, and yet they can still be legally married in this and any other state. This is because marriage as a civil institution is distinct from and, from the perspective of the secular state, more important than the religious ceremony. Regardless of whether or not a priest is involved, the marriage simply does not exist in the eyes of the state unless the couple has paid their fee and obtained a marriage license.
The word “marriage” has served double duty for all of this nation’s history, signifying both the religious union and the secular one. The latter, at least, has changed and evolved as this nation has, such that the term “traditional marriage” as it’s currently thrown around carries little meaning with regard to the civil institution. Wives were once the property of their husbands and were prohibited from owning property of their own, interracial marriages were once proscribed, but these have long since fallen by the wayside, despite dire warnings from religious conservatives at each step that eliminating these discriminatory practices would destroy the very fabric of society.
And yet with this latest stage in the evolution of civil marriage, Bishop Malone warns us that the state’s recognition of same-sex marriages will “reverberate throughout society with tragic consequences.” It is, quite frankly, a worn out canard that needs to be retired. Civil marriage has always changed to meet the times, and in that sense, this latest change is perfectly in keeping with tradition. So when Bishop Malone and Michael Heath try to restrict the secular institution to their particular religious concept of “traditional marriage,” it makes one wonder: Who is really trying to change the definition of marriage?